Double whammy: More O’Hare jet noise, higher utility bills

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Fed-up homeowners at an O’Hare Noise Commission hearing Friday said they should be compensated for soaring utility bills since being forced to live with their windows closed — and their air conditioning on — to shut out new O’Hare International Airport jet noise.

Melissa Poulos of Norridge told commission members an $8 billion O’Hare runway overhaul plan that dramatically changed flight paths last fall has “forever changed our lives.’’

“We have trouble sleeping, our kids can’t do homework, our houses shake,’’ Poulos said during a meeting where once again a record number of O’Hare noise complaints were released.

“Our utility bills should be covered … at least partially, as we can never have our windows open, ever, because you can’t even have a dinner and have a discussion at your dinner.’’

Poulos wasn’t sure who should pick up the utility tab – the city, the airlines, or the feds. Free sound insulation for homes facing what the Federal Aviation Administration considers onerous jet noise is currently covered by the FAA’s Improvement Program and the city of Chicago’s passenger facility charges.

Representatives of the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission and the Chicago Department of Aviation sat mum in response to Poulos’ idea, but several other visitors afterward endorsed the utility compensation concept.

“I agree,’’ said Susan D’Alessandro, a resident of Peterson Woods in the 40th Ward.

Checking her utility bill later for a 30-day period this summer vs. last summer, D’Alessandro estimated it was 66 percent higher after the big switch in flight paths shifted 70 percent of O’Hare traffic over areas east and west of O’Hare — including her home.

“I never used air conditioning before this,’ D’Alessandro said. “This summer I ran it from May until September….

“I’m angry about the energy waste. My husband and I try to be ecologically responsible. We drive a Prius, compost our vegetable waste, completely avoid pesticides, et cetera. I feel awful enlarging our carbon footprint by using [air conditioning] but we’d go crazy from the noise if we opened our windows. ‘’

Even Noise Commission member Barrett Pedersen, mayor of Franklin Park, said after Friday’s meeting that the idea was worth exploring.

“At least they would be receiving something for the nuisance,’’ Pedersen said.

Also supporting the concept was Colleen McCrone, a 45th Ward resident, who said that since the big switch, “Even on a nice day, you lock everything up.’’

McCrone drew applause at Friday’s meeting for her impassioned plea to officials of the FAA and the Chicago Department of Aviation to visit jet-noise-ravaged homes before deciding runway patterns and sound insulation criteria.

“It’s not just the noise,’’ McCrone explained. “I get 285 average [daytime] flights. . . . What’s a reasonable number of flights?’’

Residents east and west of yet another runway are getting hammered with nearly 600 average daytime departures, McCrone said, pointing to new data released Friday.

“Have any of the speakers today … spent days or weeks in the homes of the complaintants you so consistently minimize? Have you ever engaged them directly?” McCrone asked. Officials should do so before deciding “what residents must accept or tolerate,’’ McCrone said.

Since the big flight path switch on Oct. 17, 2013, McCrone said, she has spent more than $15,000 on sound insulation in just one child’s bedroom and now lives with her windows closed.

Her comments came after new Chicago Department of Aviation data showed the O’Hare noise hotline had received 32,532 noise beefs in September – yet another monthly record — but noted that 52 percent were from 10 addresses.

The Aviation Department’s practice of singling out large complainers seems to be “dismissive” of them, McCrone said. Instead, she said, city and FAA officials should be talking with or visiting those residents directly.

The largest number of September noise complaints –10,634 – came from Chicago, with the 41st Ward registering more than 4,700 of them.

The noise complaint report for the first time Friday included data from the 40th Ward, which recently joined the Noise Commission at the urging of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his floor leader, Ald. Patrick O’Connor (40th). Some 28 residents from the 40th Ward made 91 noise complaints in September, the report showed.

Chicago was followed by Norridge, with 6,831 noise complaints; Wood Dale, with 5,002, and Bensenville with 4,640.

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